Members of the U.S. women's hockey team are willing to give up the chance to defend their world championship gold medal on home ice unless there is significant progress in settling a wage dispute that has dragged on for months.
Players informed USA Hockey on Wednesday that they will not report to training camp next week or play in the tournament that begins March 31 in Plymouth, Michigan, without clear steps toward what they hope is a four-year contract.
"To voluntarily take ourselves out of the running to (repeat) is not easy, but it's what's right and we're asking for what's right and fair," forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said by phone. "I'm proud to do this with my teammates and to stand arm in arm with them and to say enough is enough."
USA Hockey said the organization and the U.S. Olympic Committee provide national team players with financial support, training opportunities, camps and strength and conditioning programs.
"We acknowledge the players' concerns and have proactively increased our level of direct support to the Women's National Team as we prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games," USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said. "We have communicated that increased level of support to the players' representatives and look forward to continuing our discussions."
USA Hockey said each player participating in the Olympics in South Korea next February could receive up to $85,000, which also includes medal incentives.
Team captain Meghan Duggan called the statement "completely misleading and dishonest," and the law firm representing the players said no $85,000 offer was made.
"It's an example of them kind of disregarding anything that we're asking and basically disregarding our request to be under contract for a four-year period and any of that," Duggan said, adding that players are also asking for insurance and travel expenses they don't feel are provided on an equal level as men's players.
Neither USA Hockey nor the players would reveal details of the wages in dispute or how the men's team is compensated. The U.S. men's team is comprised of highly paid NHL players, as are most established national teams.
"You can't really say, 'Well what do they get?' Because the NHL guys get paid millions of dollars," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "That's why we bring up equitable support. How they get treated when they go to their world championship or their World Cup, it should be equal to that about how we get treated when we go to our world championship."
Players pointed to the $3.5 million USA Hockey spends annually on its National Team Development Program with no comparable setup for women's development and the fact that those men's under-17 and under-18 teams play 60 games a season compared to just nine for the women's national team in a non-Olympic year.
Canada, the world's other women's hockey powerhouse, puts more money into the sport in part because of government funding. Hockey Canada general manager of women's programs Melody Davidson said development players receive $900 a month and senior-level players $1,500 a month even outside Olympic years and that players are supported full-time for nine months around the Olympics.
"We get paid for six months out of a four-year span," said Lamoureux-Davidson, who recently received a check for December Series games against Canada.
USA Hockey said it planned to "field a competitive team" for the IIHF tournament. How that team would be put together wasn't immediately clear, but USA Hockey President Jim Smith declared that "USA Hockey's role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so."
"Good luck getting a suitable No. 1 competition to represent our country on a world stage," forward Hilary Knight said. "I kind of dare them."
Matt DelDuca, a lawyer with expertise in labor and employment issues said, "Who's going to win is going to depend on how strong their leverage really is in the eyes of the organization."
USA Hockey said it is committed to growing women's hockey and that more than 73,000 women play hockey in the U.S. now compared with 23,000 in 1998, when the Americans won gold at the first Olympics with a women's tournament.
But women's players have had contracts only in Olympic years and are seeking a deal that covers them in off years. Several players said USA Hockey has paid players $1,000 a month during their six-month Olympic residency period and nothing the rest of the time.
"They're looking for support for every year so that they don't have to have second and third jobs and don't have to have family supporting them," said John Langel, an attorney for the players. He characterized the negotiating gap with USA Hockey as a chasm.
The wage dispute follows one by U.S. women's soccer players, who last March filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Lamoureux-Davidson said the hockey players have been in touch with soccer players about their dispute, which is ongoing; Langel represented U.S. women's soccer players from 1998 to 2014.
Cammi Granato, one of the first women in the Hockey Hall of Fame after being inducted in 2010, dealt with wage disputes during her career and appreciates current players taking such a difficult stand.
"It says a lot for what they're fighting for," Granato said. "It says a lot for the fact that there needs to be change. This takes a lot of courage."
Lamoureux-Davidson said players are hopeful that taking a stand will force the issue.
"We all want to go play," she said. "But it's been 14 months and we haven't seen progress, so if there's progress within the next week and a half, we'll see."
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